Hiring an SEO can be a stressful experience, with many discrediting the profession for quackery, and short-term tricks that won’t have long-term impacts on your search presence. The reality is, although there is plenty of SEO cowboys out there, Search Engine Optimisation is a valid practice that can yield long-term results for businesses assuming they’re hiring an SEO who has a true understanding of the strategic, technical, and creative implications of their decisions.

If you’ve been in business for a while, it’s likely you receive a lot of unsolicited emails from companies claiming miracles, and normally send through examples of what changes they plan to make to your website.

For most of us, we’re in business for the long-run. I’m a business owner myself, and whilst I never originally decided to keep it as a primary income for anything longer than six months, all the planning you do is for perpetual operation. Accountants even have a word for that. So, it makes sense for your marketing, and indeed website to reflect that.

That brings me to red flag #1

 

Claims of overnight, or guarantees of success.

One of the biggest misconceptions about the search engine optimisation market is that its effect is much like an advertising campaign. Measurable from day one. SEO is after all simply optimising your existing infrastructure and providing recommendations to improve the overall CVR, or bring more relevant visitors to your website. Ask the SEO-to-be what the rough timeline for the project is, what changes they plan to make to your site, and what metrics they plan to use to measure the success.

 

They write the content without asking you for input.

I’m a big advocate for content marketing, I think it’s one of the best decisions any marketing coordinator can make for their team. But. Especially for those with very specialised industries (say, real estate, legal, and training), it’s important to make sure the content is not only correct but also creates value for the reader.

There’s an ancient black-hat technique called ‘keyword stuffing’  that I have found unsuspecting webmaster’s fall into as part of some of these low-value content marketing schemes. A good SEO firm will not only include you within the editorial process, but likely will provide examples of past articles, read up on your industry’s advertising laws, or even better. Put you in touch with a journalist, or communications expert who writes their content in your area.

 

They have packages.

Although I never used to consider this a red flag. It definitely is now. Aside from some more advanced technical implementations (say, AMP, or structured data) SEO should not be a ‘one-size-fits-all’ matter. The arrangement with your SEO should not be a monthly retainer, but more rather should be a two-way discussion you have with each other full of research, and pitching.

You can see this very clearly in the example from above. They have a set number of backlinks and keywords per month (awkwardly all odd numbers…), as well as listing out each service they do. None of these are achievable without buying services.

You should be discussing with your SEO, and they should be discussing with you the changes they’re making, the technical implications this will have on your site, and the amount of time it will take them to complete these changes. Some changes may involve downtime (which they should know how to handle), others should be handled in a staging environment.

 

They don’t provide you reports, or worse. Provide you useless information.

Having an in-house marketing team that understands the terms within digital marketing is a massive bonus here. I’ve done quite a bit of disaster recovery jobs for clients who’ve hired SEO agencies in the past, and one thing that is recurring across most of these is a complete lack of communication.

As a rough guide, here’s some metrics they should be keeping track of:

  • Click Through Rate (CTR)
  • Average Position
  • Domain Authority
  • Moz Rank
  • Keyword rankings (from Search Console)
  • Link Quality
  • Conversion Rate
  • Bounce Rate
  • Pages per session
  • Landing pages, and exit pages

 

There’s also some metrics that I have debunked, and would be wary of:

 

Alexa Rank

Alexa is an Amazon owned company that owns technology that’s in a whole load of web 2.0 tools, including various toolbars that are installed in people’s web browsers. This is how it tracks the popularity of your website, and unlike many other metrics out there it’s a lower-is-better metric as it ranks websites rather than providing a score to improve. Whilst it can be a useful metric when used properly, it is very easily spoofed with automated traffic, and is very inefficient in today’s plugin-over-toolbar world.

 

Sessions

Your traffic is likely to be seasonal. Most websites will have regular fluctuations in their traffic, and so SEO or CRO effects should never be measured in absolute terms. This is not to say that your SEO is doing something suspicious, but especially if you’re running other campaigns alongside your SEO, discuss this with your SEO and use technology such as UTM tagging to attribute your on-site traffic. A change in traffic does not necessarily correlate to improved SEO work.

 

MyWOT Rank

I’ve only seen this one a few times, but I’m not certain about it. The idea is that this rank is supposed to give an identifier about how trustworthy your domain is. I much prefer the Moz Open Site Explorer’s “Page Trust” rank for this, but in reality the only way to find accurately a domain’s trust is a good search, and conducting a brand health audit.

 

What questions should I ask them?

I have to admit to getting some help from this wonderful Moz article. But I do highly believe that hiring a qualified SEO professional even if they’re more expensive in the short-term is better than taking risks on a non-professional.

As the adage goes –

“If you think it’s expensive to hire a professional, wait until you hire an amateur,”

SEO disaster recovery is not an affordable service, and it’s never a truly perfect solution, so here’s a few questions coming from both an SEO professional myself, and someone who has come on the other end of the stick having to do disaster recovery as a client-side marketing coordinator:

 

1) Can you itemise the changes you intend to make, and educate me about what this means to me?

Even better, the SEO should conduct an SEO audit first to see what needs changing on the website. If you have a reasonably sized website, it’s likely  you’re going to get recommendations about optimising images, page speed, or even a complete change of web servers. [My recommendation at the moment is Amazon Web Services/Vultr with a LEMP stack, NameCheap for Domain Names]

 

2) Who will be implementing the technical changes? Will we have downtime, and how do you plan to manage this?

Seldom does the SEO, or SEO Account Executive handle the technical changes themselves. They’ll often rely on a third party developer, or perhaps even your in-house team. Make sure you have this worked out before you even start as your development team may not have time to respin all of your servers up onto a new OS and have the learning curve attached to that. Case in point here when I had to crash course Lua for a particular large, interactive learning environment here in Brisbane. Most contract projects ranged between $1,000 and $7,500 as at 2011, so keep in mind anything below this may involve some work on your end, or might just be too good to be true.

 

3) Can I meet your team?

I can understand if they can’t. But I prefer working with people who are at the very least within the same country as me. So at the absolute worse case, you can fly to where they are and speak to them face-to-face in case of absolute disasters. Or even, to work within the same legislative framework makes things much easier when things go up the proverbial creek. At the very least, I like having a phone call with our developers, and SEO agents, it just makes the whole process more transparent.

 

4) Do you follow the webmaster guidelines for the major search engines?

I put this question in because it’s not always the case, and you’re not always optimising f0r Google. Google regularly publishes its guidelines, as do Bing, Baidu, Yandex, and Sogou.  If you’re targeting customers in China, it makes sense to work on your indexing within Baidu and Sogou, whereas a presence in Russia may invite optimisation for the locally-targeted Yandex.

 

5) How often will we communicate?

Just like any business relationship, it helps to set expectations from the start. How often will you send me reports? Will we meet face-to-face? Are we on a contract basis with you? Will you re-pitch for the next stage of changes to the site?

 

6) What happens when our relationship ends?

This is a difficult one, and it’s a difficult conversation to have. But if you’re employing, or contracting a content writer you’re likely to come across an issue about intellectual property. Duplicate content issues are particularly worrying as your site might actually face ranking losses. Discuss ahead of time who owns the content, what’s legally yours, and what the agency owns.

Hopefully that’s a little bit of information that can assist you in choosing an SEO professional. If you’d like to know more, I am more than happy to answer any questions you may have so put a comment down below and I will try and answer it.
In saying that, Google also has a video on this topic. If reading all of that was too much: